By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – In March, the Davis Planning Commission reluctantly approved a commercial-only project at the University Mall site. However, Councilmember Bapu Vaitla has now appealed the matter to the city council.
According to the city staff report, the council will now determine “whether or not to entertain and schedule a public hearing for a Councilmember initiated appeal.” At this point, the council “is precluded from discussing the Planning Commission findings, or the merits of the project, or the merits of the appeal.”
The council “is constrained only to consider whether to put the appeal on a future agenda for a public hearing.”
In August 2022, after the council in 2020 had approved a large mixed-use project of the site, Brixmor submitted a new application that would replace the existing retail center with a two story, commercial-only project.
On March 20, 2023, Councilmember Vaitla “invoked his right as a councilmember and submitted an appeal of the Planning Commission decision.”
In his appeal, Councilmember Vaitla argued the “proposed project does not conform to the visions of the General Plan (Section III).”
“I do not believe that ‘development of the site and new structures will enhance the site and the neighborhood,’ as stated in the Findings,” the councilmember wrote.
Citing “Neighborhood Character,” Vaitla continued, “I do not believe that the ‘proposed architecture, site design, and landscape are suitable for the purposes of the building and the site and will enhance the character of the neighborhood and community’ or that the project ‘will be consistent with existing and anticipated surrounding development,’ as stated in the Findings.”
He added, “A single-story commercial structure oriented towards automobile access does not conform to current urban planning best practices. The current and planned developments to the west and south (on UC Davis property) are increasingly dense, and the future of neighborhood plazas in Davis will likely strongly emphasize mixed-use development.”
Third, Vaitla cited “architectural design.” He wrote, “I do not believe that ‘the architectural design of the proposed project is compatible with the existing properties and anticipated future developments within the neighborhood in terms of such elements as height, mass, scale and proportion, in that the proposed buildings and improvements…are an appropriate design for the proposed use and consistent with nearby uses,’ as stated in the Findings.”
Whether the council will move forward to hear the appeal is another matter.
The Planning Commission was told that they were relatively constrained as to what they can do and were warned that the city could be used for a denial.
“A property owner has the right to build or improve their property, within the regulations of the local zoning code, which in this instance allows retail-only or mixed-use,” a letter from Jenny Tan, Director of Community engagement explained in March.
She continued, “City staff have been in multiple conversations with the property owner at University Mall regarding building a residential mixed-use project and to ascertain what, if any, City support would assist in bringing the housing portion of the project to fruition.”
The property owner at University Mall has consistently told the City that “they will not build mixed-use and they will pursue retail-only.”
Moreover, Tan stated, “The City does not have the authority to force the property owner at University Mall to build mixed-use apartments or housing if they are proposing development that is within the current zoning requirements and standards.”
The zoning of the property “allows retail-only use of the property with an option to include residential use, but does not mandate residential.”
She added, “There is no legal basis for the City to impose such a mandate.”